Thursday, 18 May 2017

Gregory Baum, The Oil Will not Fail, 2016

Very remarkably Gregory Baum has published another book – at more than 90 years of age. It is the
story of his theological journey from a Protestant home in Berlin in the 1920’s and 30’s to his current retirement in Montreal. There are few who could have realized such a project at his age. Gregory has always claimed he was not an artist but a foreman who built texts. Every day of his life he follows a discipline of reading and writing.
There are extraordinary moments recounted in this book, which gathers together the major influences and lines of thought that have guided him over these many decades from Berlin to England, to Farnham, Quebec, to Toronto to Montreal.
However, it is the intellectual journey that most interests him in this new book and it must be admitted that it is an extraordinary intellectual journey. As a recently ordained priest, he was called to be part of the Second Vatican Council and to assist in the creation of several of its documents. The prestige flowing from this involvement has followed him all his life. As a former Protestant, he was part of moving the Catholic Church out of its defensive isolation from other Christian traditions. He worked to engage the Church in the ecumenical movement. He also had a role to play in the movement to reconcile the Catholic Church with Jews worldwide. He developed an intimate understanding of the difficult relationship with Muslim traditions. Yet, he returns often to the fact that, regardless of what has happened to him and around him in the course of his life, he has always be able to maintain a fundamental happiness with life as he lives it each day. He is, by nature, open and optimistic. Perhaps this has played an important role in his intellectual curiosity and stamina.
At one point during his time in Toronto, he took time off to study at the New School in New York. There, grounded in sociology, he was introduced to a study of social structures. He applied the sociological expertise he gained to understand Church structures. His contact at the New School with Rosemary Radford Reuther profoundly affected his understanding also of women in the Church.
Baum also explains his move from a well-off German middle-class family quite isolated from the fate of the Jewish people in Europe and also from the struggles of the poor toward a much broader and inclusive understanding of inequalities and injustices in the world. His characteristic passion for justice was learned slowly and not without personal grief.
At 93, he now lives in a pleasant but simple apartment in Montreal; receives dialysis three times a week after his kidneys failed several years ago and is increasingly deaf. However, I can assure you that his mind is as alert as ever and he continues to write and publish. His current work, whose French version will be launched on June 1, 2017, is but the latest example.
He and I differ in temperament: While Gregory might feel uncomfortable speaking with street people, I find myself right at home. While Gregory might have had to struggle to incorporate the question of the poor and oppressed into his everyday worldview, I feel it was always part of my horizon – and made for difficult relationships quite often. While Gregory was enthusiastic initially with the NDP, I quickly became disenchanted – though continuing to support it. Gregory is much more systematic and thorough in his investigations; I am more impulsive and tend to “fire from the hip.” Gregory had a long and impressive teaching career; I abandoned that very early for involvement in social movements.
One of the differences I need to explore more fully is whether the question of God is inherent in being human.  Lonergan thinks so, Gregory does not.  On this hinges different ways of understanding how religious traditions lead to “salvation.”
My answer to the question of the fundamental human openness to God is that the question bridges  a theology of grace (“the Spirit works in every human”) and a philosophy that focuses on the restlessness of intellect to know and of heart to find rest/love. ” I would tend to find a point of departure in Augustine’s statement in the opening page of the Confessions: “My heart is restless until it rests in thee.” 
It is accepted in Roman Catholic theological circles today that God’s Spirit can work in the lives of people who are not Catholic, Christian or even religious. Usually the reason given is that this presence can be detected from the attitude and comportment of the person in question: their altruism and compassion, etc.  These attitudes are recognized as the fruit of the Spirit as described by St. Paul.
Catholic theology of grace also insists that the gift of the Spirit, the gift of God’s grace, is gratuitous and also that it is never forced on the individual, thus leaving their human freedom intact.
From an anthropological point of view this means that there is something in the human make-up that can be opened or closed to God’s Spirit. In turn, this means that there is something in the human make-up that makes it possible for the Spirit to be accepted. What this might be is still very much a matter of theological discussion.
Augustine points to the “restlessness” of the human heart and intellect; Rahner points to transcendence  and Lonergan points to the limitless possibility of the human mind to question – at least he does so in Insight. I would like to suggest that the restlessness inherent in being human – a point that can be verified by the human sciences – may be the quality we are looking for. It would be important not to limit this quality to one of the intellectual search for meaning but also to the limitless search of the human heart (what Lonergan calls “feelings”) for communion.
So, even if an atheist shows not the slightest inclination to religion or anything religious, the quality of “restlessness,” with respect to meaning and communion is, for the Christian theologian, an indication of the capacity and even the reality of a presence of the Spirit announced by Jesus in the Gospels.
This is not to make a believer or “anonymous Christian” out of the atheist. It is to respect his or her own position. But it provides the theologian with a way of understanding the experience of the atheist in such a way that the presence of the Spirit can be detected “in faith.”

Friday, 31 March 2017

The Right to be Cold

Every year the CBC holds a week-long radio debate on five books selected as the most significant published in Canada during the previous year. This year one of the finalists was The Right to Be Cold by Sheila  Watt-Sloutier. It was eliminated in the third round. What is interesting is the argument presented by the debater who broke the tie to eliminate it: “My mom says it has too much information.”
It is a book that presents itself as a memoir of an Inuit women who grew to become an international spokesperson for the Inuit peoples of the polar region (five countries where the Inuit live, including Canada, Alaska, Greenland and Russia).
What lies behind “mom’s” comment is, I believe, an inability to move beyond the concept of a singular individual presenting a memoir to the collective memoir of a people. It is a specific inability of our modern Western culture that is becoming more and more evident – and pathological.

While the idea of the individual as an important centre of attention, came into its own through the time of the Enlightenment in Europe, the earlier period in Europe as also among Indigenous peoples throughout human history has been much more collective. The inability of many at this time to place themselves in this latter framework is one of the important reasons why we are increasingly unable to deal with global issues. 

Monday, 27 February 2017

Theology of Liberation: Origin and Growth in Latin America

[In Montreal there is a Comité sur les droits humains en Amérique Latine - CDHAL. It has been around now for 40 years and been a rallying point throughout Quebec for solidarity with Latin America. As part of their anniversary celebration they put together an impressive collection of writers for a special edition of Caminando. I wrote the following article for that review.]  

 In the following essay I will look at the significance of liberation theology for human rights in Latin America during the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. I will begin with a consideration how liberation theology arose in the context of the struggle to have those rights respected in Latin America and consider some of the major orientations of liberation theology. Then I will focus on a few major moments in the history of liberation theology during the period in question. Finally, I will conclude with some considerations of the on-going significance of liberation theology at the beginning of the 22nd century.

The Context
 The birth of liberation theology can be found between 1966-1973 following the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council. But, to understand why, we have to go back more than a century. After the wars of independence from Portugal and Spain in the 19th century, practically all bishops and most clergy returned to Europe, leaving the Church in the hands of local communities and members of a few Religious Orders like the Dominicans and the Franciscans. These devoted most of their attention to urban centres and only visited rural areas occasionally. The people were left on their own. Around 1960, Pope John XXIII called on Europe and North America to send priests to serve in Latin America. They did so in great numbers and often took up posts in remote areas. Bishops and theologians were faced with the challenge of providing them with some orientation about how to approach their mission in these areas.

Meantime, the Second Vatican Council opened in Rome in the Fall of 1962 and concluded, after four sessions, in 1965. Over 2,000 bishops as well as many theologians attended. Its stated aim was to bring the Church into line with the challenges of the 21st century. During that period the Latin Americans present were noticeably quiet. On the other hand, they were sharp observers. While in Rome they took time to listen to European theologians and consulted with sociologists like François Houtard from Louvain. Also, Latin America was the only area of the global church
organized into a central coordinating body, CELAM, under the shrewd direction of Dom Helder Camera, Archbishop of Recife, Brazil.

It needs to be said that, during the decades preceding the Council, theology was basically an exercise in defending the official doctrine of the Church, as understood by Vatican authorities. Even so, European Catholic theologians were paying attention to Protestant theologians and to their biblical research, especially in France and Germany. Protestant theology had developed new tools for the interpretation of the Bible. It had also been considerably influenced by Kantian, Hegelian and Existential philosophy.
At the Vatican, John XXII had, in 1963 and just before his death, published a document called Pacem in terris. It completely reversed the position of the Catholic Church on the question of Human Rights.1 Until then the Church had been suspicious of human rights talk, if not entirely opposed. Suddenly, the Church was defending human rights as rooted in human dignity. Moreover, it called upon the Catholics to engage on the global scene for the defense of human rights. This caused quite a stir at the United Nations.
Following the Council, two things happened: one at the Vatican and the other in Latin America. At the Vatican Pope Paul VI published a document called Populorum progressio in which he deplored the underdevelopment of whole continents and called for a major effort to develop those societies. On the other hand, in 1968, the Latin American Bishops’ Conference (CELAM) called for a general assembly in Medellin, Colombia. The final document was a dramatic call for the Church to become involved in dealing with the major concern of the societies of Latin America: the poverty of its peoples.
These two events took place in the context of a growing ferment of theological creativity among many of Latin America’s Protestant and Catholic theologians to interpret the situation in Latin America and draw conclusions for the work of the Churches. François Houtard, mentioned above, and Pablo Freire, a Brazilian educator, proved valuable references for beginning the social analysis of Latin American societies. A number of important theologians began to emerge. In 1973, Gustavo Gutierrez, a priest from Lima, gave a talk on Liberation Theology. This was followed by a book that reverberated around the world.2 In it he criticized European theology (including the Vatican) for interpreting the situation of Latin America as one of underdevelopment and suggested that it was rather one of oppression. Oppression calls for liberation and Gutierrez offered abundant biblical support for the importance of this cause, beginning with the story of the exodus from Egypt to the ministry of Jesus among his people. He coined a phrase that would be incorporated into the general assembly of CELAM in Puebla, Mexico in 1974: option for the poor. It meant that God has repeatedly shown a special preference for the cause of the poor.
 Reaction was not slow in coming. On the one hand, liberation theology was vilified as a work of Marxist extremists, who had taken on the cause of revolution. (The fact that many of these theologians used Marxist vocabulary to analyze the social context of Latin America added fuel to the fire.) On the other hand, throughout Latin America, bishops, priests and religious women in local communities everywhere began to shape their work around the principles of this new theological analysis that largely bypassed traditional theological sources and concentrated rather on the juncture between the conclusions of the social sciences and a new understanding of biblical history.
While Church doctrine was certainly not ignored, the approach was no longer simply its repetition but rather the liberation of the poor understood in the tradition of the Bible. Moreover, this theology was practiced, not in university faculties but rather in the small base communities that characterized rural areas and whose faith had survived on its own for more than a century and a half. Rather than indoctrinating these communities, priests and bishops invited them to discover their society by examining their own experience and judging it in the light of biblical history of liberation. Rather than spending all their time studying the conclusions of European church documents, theologians in their turn began studying sociology, anthropology and political science to understand the reality of their people. With that understanding they turned to a re-interpretation of the biblical sources using the tools of modern biblical research. Carlos Mesters in Brazil provided biblical grounding; Ernesto Cardenal in Nicaragua showed how the poor could “read” their reality in the biblical stories of liberation.  All this took place with the support of Latin American bishops like Dom Helder Camera in Brazil, Samuel Ruiz in Mexico, Leonidas Proaño in Ecuador, José Dammert in Peru, Enrique Angelelli in Argentina and Manuel Larrain in Chile among many others.
American foreign policy quickly determined that liberation theology was enemy number one of American interests in Latin America and began advising Latin America governments about how to deal with it. Many ordinary people in small rural and urban communities were assassinated as were numerous priests, Religious women and quite a number of bishops, notably Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, though many others could be named. The largest group was made up of peasants, youth and members of indigenous communities. It was the largest persecution of Christians since the time of the Roman Empire. Hundreds of thousands perished during the rule of military dictatorships in many countries of Latin America. Their witness only inspired more dedicated commitment in grassroots communities.
Meanwhile, in Africa, Asia and the Middle-East, among women and indigenous peoples around the world, among the Blacks in the United States and South Africa, theologians emerged who could help local communities understand their reality through the social sciences and find inspiration in biblical stories. Oppression in every age and every part of the world is much the same. Liberation is a journey with similar traits whether it is in Africa, Asia, South America, 2000 years ago or now.  Today, one can say that liberation theology has been accepted into the family of theologies of the Roman Catholic Church. Because there is much less controversy about it, the name appears less in the media. However, its influence is present in almost every country of the Global South and also in deprived and persecuted sectors in the northern hemisphere. Associations of liberation theologians provide support. These include Amerindia (in Latin America) and the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians (EATWOT)3 that includes theologians from around the world, both Catholic and Protestant.
Sergio Torres, a theologian from Chile, took refuge in Toronto for several years and helped inspire an interest in liberation theology there. Gregory Baum and Lee Cormie, who were theologians at St. Michael’s College (University of Toronto) at that time, also introduced many to liberation theology.
Quebec was much influenced by the emergence of liberation theology just as it was going through its own quiet revolution. Priests and Religious women who had worked in Latin America returned with the idea of establishing base church communities here. Liberation theology resonated with many grass roots Christians, Catholic and Protestant. They saw it as a foundation for their commitment to social change in the Church as well as in the wider Quebec society.

1.      Gregory Baum, Étonnante Église, L’émergence du catholicisme solidaire, Bellarmin, 2006.
2.      Gustavo Gutierrez, Théologia de la liberación, perspectivas, CEP, Lima, 1971. (11 Edition: 2005)
3.      An excellent resource, in Spanish, for liberation theology can be found at

Boff, Clodovicos. Théorie et pratique, La méthode des théologies de la libération, Paris, Cerf, 1990

Carrier, Yves, Théologie pratique de libération au Chili de Salvador Allende : Une expérience d’insertion en milieu ouvrier, l’Harmattan, Paris, 2013. [The first chapters provide an excellent introduction to liberation theology.]
Comblin, José, Théologie de la révolution, Parish, Éditions universitaires, 1970.
Freire, Pablo, Pedagogie des opprimés, Éditions Maspero, 1974. (Written in 1969.)
Mesters, Carlos, Dios, ¿dónde estás? Una introducción práctica a la Biblia, Verbo Divino, 1997 [He has in fact published small books outlining an approach to most of the books of the New Testament.]
Tamez, Elsa, “Derechos humanos de las mujeres,” Agenda Latinoamericana mundial, 2015. [The 2015 edition focused on human rights.]

[These invaluable collections offer documents from the period in question.]

Convocados por el evangelio, 25 años de reflexión teológica (1971-1995), CEP, Lima, 1995.

Signos de renovación 1966-1969, CEAS, Lima, 1969

Signos de liberación, 1969-1973, CEP, Lima, 1973

Signos de lucha y esperanza, 1973-1978. CEP, Lima, 1978

Signos de  vida y fidelidad, Testimonios de la Iglesia en América Latina 1978-1982, CEP, Lima 1983

Signos de nueva evangelización, Testimonios de la Iglesia en América Latina 1983-1987, CEP, Lima, 1988.

[In addition, the documentation centre, LADOC (Lima), published a monthly set of documents in English that represented the commitment of the churches in Latin America to the option for the poor. The centre no longer exists but the collection can be found in many university libraries. I was its director from 1985-1989.]

Saturday, 25 February 2017

A Note on the Healings of [Saint] Brother André founder of St. Joseph's Oratory, Montreal

[This is not the sort of thing I have been putting up on my blog. However, I include it even though it is a rather academic reflection provoked by some reading I was doing about psychiatric history in Europe 1775-1945. Brother André (1845-1937) was a member of my religious order. He spent many years as porter-receptionist at a school in Montreal. ]
Among the material gathered in preparation for the canonization of Brother André is an account of the following incident:

One day a man said to him, “You are Brother André, the one who does the miracles.” Brother André replied, “I am Brother André, but it isn’t me who does miracles, it’s Saint Joseph, the good Lord.” The man replied, “Do you do your miracles through hypnotism or by prayers?” Brother André felt insulted and was ill for a week.” [1]

Obviously Brother André felt that he had been misunderstood. The purpose of my reflection is to point out how the man in question could have posed such a question to Brother André and why Brother André would feel so insulted.

            The title of this reflection focuses on “healings.” The choice of words is intentional and important. The first book published about Brother André, that of George Ham, is entitled The Miracle Man of Montreal.[2] The healings of Brother André were numerous and widely considered to be miracles. In fact, both the canonization and the beatification process included a long investigation into cases which were official declared miracles by Church authorities. A miracle is always situated in the context of faith in Jesus and is intrinsically related to his mission. It is not the same as performing a wonder or producing a medical healing. While there is a careful medical study of cases of healing presented to Church authorities, the medical teams never refer to the event as a miracle. Only a theologian may investigate that dimension and only a Church authority may determine whether a healing is miraculous. This process has its own criteria that are very different from an analysis of the external circumstances. An examination of these criteria would take us far outside the framework of the present note.

My intention then is to examine the healings of Brother André and really only one dimension of those healings, namely the procedures used by Brother André in his encounters with the sick who presented themselves to him. This is a dimension Fr. René Latourelle[3] calls “facticity.” It is an important dimension since miracles are always part of human history and therefore have a real presence in our human history even though that does not exhaust their significance.

Let it be said right away, that Brother André acted in different ways when the sick presented themselves to him. Sometimes he sent them off to pray, to make a novena, to obtain some “St. Joseph oil” or a medal to rub on the affected part.[4] Other times he simply told them to walk, to drop their crutches.[5] Sometimes he distracted them with a task, for example one that involved using limbs that were paralyzed.[6] Sometimes the effect was instantaneous; with others it was a long process, at times including several visits.[7] Never did he claim that he had worked a miracle or that he had healed anyone. He always insisted that it was St. Joseph or it was God who healed them.[8]

What inspired Brother André to act in this way?  Probably we will never know. Brother André did not speak of his sources other than his faith in God and St. Joseph. While there is something very profound in this reference, it does not necessarily explain the orders to use oil or a medal or to pray in the Oratory chapel or why it sometimes took weeks or months to see any result while on other occasions the recovery was instantaneous.

And why did the unnamed questioner ask him whether he has hypnotizing those who came to him? To understand all this, we need to explore the context of the times of Brother André from his entry at the College Notre Dame in 1870 to his death in 1937. This context includes events in Europe--France in particular--during this same period and that had echoes on this side of the ocean in Quebec and the United States.

 Europe in the early period of scientific healing (late-17th century to mid-18th):

As a source of the first dynamic psychiatry, Henri F. Ellenberger[9] points to the importance attached to the concept of imagination since the time of the Renaissance. In his Essays, Montaigne insists that imagination

was a frequent cause of physical, emotional and mental disease… Imagination could cause conspicuous physical phenomena such as the appearance of the stigmata.… But imagination could also be used toward the cure of physical and mental ailments.… Marvelous stories were published everywhere about sleepwalkers who would write, swim rivers, or walk over rooftops in full-moon nights….[10] 

He goes on to state that hypnotism is the “royal road to the unknown mind.”

One of the first to attempt a “scientific” approach to healing was Anton Mesmer who “magnetized” people in the 18th .  Ellenberger notes:

From the very beginning, the peculiar relationship between the magnetizer and the magnetized was the object of much wonder and speculation…The magnetizer is thus calling forth in his subject a special life of his own, aside from the normal life, that is, a second condition with its own continuity, under increasing dependency on the magnetizer.[11]

In the beginning, Mesmer gathered groups under a tree that was venerated by the local peasantry for its healing power and he connected them with cords to the tree. He then engaged in a process of suggestion that they were being healed. Often, many were.

As to the means of inducing mesmeric sleep (which we shall henceforth designate by its later name of hypnosis), the early magnetizers made use of Mesmer’s technique of the passes – He used a baton that he waved in front of the patients. But this technique was soon abandoned in favor of two others. The first was fascination (a method already known to the ancient Egyptians, to Cornelius Agrippa, and others). The patient was asked to look at a fixed or slightly moving point, either luminous or not, or simply to look fixedly into the eyes of the hypnotist. This was the method later popularized by Braid and it was also used by the Salpêtrière School [in Paris]. This technique was combined with the verbal one by the Abbé Faria, who seated his subject in a comfortable chair and gave him the imperative order: ‘Sleep!’.”  Other hypnotists would give the order in a gentler, lower voice. Faria’s technique was later adopted by Liébeault and the Nancy School.[12]

Suggestions made by the “magnetizer” were central to the process.

Sometimes but certainly not always, hypnotism acted through suggestion, that is, the direct implantation of an idea into the passive mind of the patient. However, this action has often been misunderstood. Hypnotic suggestions were not necessarily forced upon the subject. It is true that there has been a trend of imperative suggestion, which can be traced historically from Faria through Noizet to Liébeault and the Nancy school. Such imperative suggestions were found to work best with persons who occupied subordinate position in life and were accustomed to obeying orders (soldiers and laborers) or with people whose willpower was weak or who were eager to submit their will to that of the hypnotist.[13]

Some discovered that it was not necessary to pass the patient into a sleeping state. A waking state could be brought about in which the patient was susceptible to suggestion. While in this state the patient was aware only of the hypnotizer and had a heightened capacity for attention.

According to him [Hyppolite Bernheim, who founded the medical school at Nancy in France], the hypnotic state was the result of a suggestion induced in view of facilitating another suggestion. Otherwise there was no fundamental difference between suggestion under hypnosis and suggestion in the waking state.[14]

While hypnotism enjoyed a certain popularity among certain medical circles in Europe, especially France and Switzerland toward the latter part of the 19th century, it gradually fell into general disrepute by the end of the century, perhaps because of those non-medical entertainers who organized public séances in which they exhibited their patients under hypnosis.  At the same time, there were cases of members of the clergy or members of religious orders who engaged in practices of healing the sick as part of the tradition of “cure of souls.” In some cases these people gained quite a following in Europe.[15] A few of them were adept in the “new approaches” being developed by these new psychological approaches. Ellenberger recalls the experience of Charles Lafontaine, born in 1803, who worked with patients experiencing a “lucid sleepwalking.” According to this own account, wherever he went the blind would see again, the deaf would hear, and the paralyzed would walk.[16] He even did some stage performances!

Europe in the mid-18th century:

Jean-Martin Charcot, a neurologist who used hypnotism at the Salpetrière School in Paris introduced a more empirical approach to the practice. He carefully noted the history of his patients and the details of their actions or words during sessions with him. Charcot was impressed with patients who had been to Lourdes and were freed of hysterical paralyses, tumors and ulcers. He concluded that “unknown, powerful healing factors existed that the medicine of the future should learn to control.[17]

Frederick van Eden… opened a clinic of suggestive therapy in Amsterdam. He later called it Psycho-Therapy: “the cure of the body by the mind, aided by the impulse of one mind to another.”[18] Today we would call this a psychosomatic understanding of illness.

However, by the end of the 18th century, “all that pertained to hysteria, hypnosis, and suggestion was becoming increasing suspect, and the word ‘psychotherapy’ was now the accepted term for all methods of healing through the mind.”[19]

Ellenberger reports on a novel written by Grete Heisel-Hess called Die Intellektuellen in 1911. It was the first fictional presentation of psychoanalysis in its early stages:  

The doctor, who sits at his desk, looks at her piercingly for a while and silently strokes his beard. Then he bids her to sit down, and with an encouraging gesture invites her to tell her story. From now on the consultation evolved in four phases. The patient tells her whole story while the psychoanalyst listens quietly and takes notes. Then come the second phase: the analyst explains to the patient that she has repressed painful sexual memories; thereupon he strives to drag out these repressed memories ‘by means of a special technique. …. He then hypnotizes her and gives her suggestions.[20]

By 1937, psychoanalysis had been firmly established as the leading school in psychology and its centre had moved to the United States.[21]   This was complemented by extraordinary advances since the mid-eighteenth century in physiological treatment of mental illness.               


From 1775 on, some medical specialists and a few aristocrats claimed to have found a way of healing certain forms of illness, including some forms of paralysis, through a scientific process that replaced the earlier rituals offered by priests. At first they thought it was a question of passing an invisible energy from the healer (the medical doctor) to the patient. It is to be noted that electricity was a newly discovered scientific force, not entirely understood as yet, that fascinated the medical world. Also to be noted is that, at this time most of the patients came from the lower working and peasant classes. Even in that period they were very aware of the element of suggestion involved as well as the importance of the rapport between healer and patient that rendered the suggestions of the former so weighty. In some cases, suggestion was more of a command.

It was discovered that the process could include that of passing the patient into a special sleeping state that came to be called hypnosis. Schools in France and later elsewhere in Europe were established using this technique. Even Sigmund Freud favoured it for a time. Later it was discovered that placing the patient into a sleeping state was not always necessary.

Medical circles interested in this field of psychological healing considerably advanced their skills and knowledge of different forms of illness. New fields of endeavor appeared called psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. Some medical circles, especially those more inclined to treat patients through physiological means (including medicine, surgery, special food or work regimes), looked down on this “dynamic psychology.” However, it managed to retain its place alongside more neurological approaches.

It is not surprising that someone might approach Brother André to ask about a possible connection between his healings and these various currents in Europe. Clearly, Brother André was not pleased to see himself set in that context. Whether or not Brother André was aware of psychosomatic approaches to illness, his own approach to the sick or paralyzed had very different and very specific qualities that were much closer to the accounts of the miracles of Jesus and much more in line with the tradition of the Church’s “care of souls.” He only dealt physical illness and the immediate circumstances around them. Brother André never dealt with mental illness. On the other hand, people like Mesmer, Charcot, Bernheim and Janet concentrated on physical ailments that appeared to be the result of a mental disorder. They never dealt with patients who had suffered severe physical trauma such as a crushed foot after an accident while working.  Also, it was extremely rare for anyone to be healed without direct physical presence of the healer with the sick person. Brother André, on the other hand, sent someone who had come to him on behalf of his wife back to his home to find that his was was well.[22] While Brother André’s approach included what may be termed suggestion, it had significant differences from the way suggestion was used by the European psychotherapists. That difference includes the fact that Brother André never tried to induce any form of hypnosis or special sleep state, nor did he submit those who came to him to extensive sessions in which they had to recount experiences in their early life. Brother André’s suggestions to the sick resemble much more the “facticity” of Jesus, who commanded the sick to pick up their pallet and return home, or to stretch out their withered arm.


a.     Brother André never attributed the results of his interventions to himself or to any medical or psychological source;

b.     There is no indication that Brother André knew about the currents of psychotherapeutic research at the time;

c.      Brother André was nonetheless a member of a community of educated, professional teachers and lived in a local community in an institution where the ideas of that period surely circulated; it cannot be excluded that he had some rudimentary idea of such developments;

d.     The procedure of Brother André corresponds in some respects to practices in Europe (and to some extent in North America) at the time though his explanation of them is always exclusively in religious terms;

e.     Contrary to Protestant-Evangelical healers, he did not normally touch the sick.[23] He always attributed the healing to God through the intercession of St. Joseph;

f.       To think that the healings of Brother André can to some extent be explained through the theory of rapport and suggestion does not in any way lessen the openness to the dimension of faith and miracle.

[1] Lussier; See in Index Summarium 2, pa XIII, ad 20, page 351.

[2] George Ham, The Miracle Man of Montreal, Musson Book, Toronto, 1922 

[3] René Latourelle,  Du prodige au miracle, Bellarmin, Montréal, 1995.

[4] Accounts of such events can be found in the book by George Ham, in that of Etienne Catta and in the Index summarium (Vols 1 and 2) among others. This latter is a summary of the documentation prepared for the Beatification and Canonization of Brother André.

[5] Index summarium, vol. 1, p. 290.

[6] Catta, Étienne, Le Frère André (1845-1937),  l’Oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal,  Montréal, 1963, p. 290. See also Index summarium, vol. 1, p 202.

[7] Ibid., p. 343.

[8] “C’est Saint Joseph qui guérit, c’est Dieu qui guérit », Index summarium, Vol 2,  p. 337.

[9] Throughout this part of the reflection my references will largely be to a classic study of the rise of psychoanalysis between 1775 and 1945 : Henri F. Ellenberger, The Discovery of the Unconscious : The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry, Basic Books, Harper Torchbooks, New York, 1970, 932 pages. Prof. Ellenberger was professor of criminology at McGill University at the time of publication. It should be noted that the book is filled with references to primary sources. Ellenberger spend 10 years searching out those primary sources. Decades later, the accuracy of these references has never been questioned though some of his interpretations of theories and world events have been occasions for comment. His work reinterpreted our understanding of major figures in the history of psychiatry including Pierre Janet and Sigmund Freud.

[10] Ellenberger, op. cit., p. 112

[11] Ibid, 113.

[12] Ibid, 114.

[13] Ibid., 150f. 

[14]  Ibid, 151

[15] Abbé Faria mentioned above.

[16] Ellenberger, op. cit., 157.

[17] Ibid, 764.

[18] Ibid, 765.

[19] Ibid, 776

[20] Ibid, 808.

[21] Ibid, 854-860

[22] A story recounted by George Ham.

[23] On a few occasions he is said to have rubbed the affected part with oil or a medal. See Catta, op. cit, p. 290.